Why Free Opportunities are the Best Pathways Into Technology
Written by WWCode HQ
Nandi K. Allman is a Grow With Google scholarship recipient, a program that provides individuals with training and resources to build their skills, careers, or businesses. Nandi met with our Content Creator, Jacob Yoss, to discuss how the scholarship impacted their career, how people of color can transition into the tech industry and their experience as a Black and nonbinary person in the field.
What’s your background, and what motivated you to apply for the Grow With Google scholarship?
I was in the fine dining industry working for some of the country’s top chefs and restaurateurs. I was good at my job, but a friend who had gone to coding school pushed myself and our other Black friends to transition into technology because the industry needs more Black people.
So I was curious and decided to see what the tech world was like. I met a UX designer who introduced me to front end web development, and my friend recommended that I apply for the Grow With Google scholarship. The course was incredibly informative and piqued my interest.
What are you doing post-scholarship?
I got certified in product management the following year, which led me to my current job as a product lead for my company’s mobile product we’re about to launch soon. My role entails conducting user research, determining value propositions for new products, and serving as a customer-to-product voice, so I’ve come a long way since the Grow With Google scholarship.
It sounds like the scholarship and other certification courses set your career on its current path instead of a computer-science related degree, is that the case?
It is. I never imagined myself in technology because my undergraduate degree is in music. However, I try to encourage other people from other fields to venture into this industry because it’s extremely broad and not all about coding. I graduated from college ten years ago, but I’ve been in tech for four years now and love it.
I want people to know that it’s possible to transition into tech from almost any other field, regardless of degree. Platforms like Women Who Code and Black Girls Code allow people to test the waters for free. That’s one of the reasons why the Grow With Google scholarship was so great: I learned that even though things like front end web development aren’t for me, the scholarship provided me the chance to try it out and figure out what is for me. It also taught me the language to communicate with other kinds of technologists, which is a necessary skill in this world.
Many soft skills I acquired from my time in hospitality have been helpful as well, such as organization and attention to detail. Tech is a surprisingly easy field to transition into without a lot of formal training.
Where are you hoping your career will go next?
Technology is hugely white and male-dominated, which comes across in products, so I aspire to influence SaaS applications within the next ten years, especially as a Black person. I would love to see myself leading product visions and ensuring that all user and stakeholder voices are represented. I want to consider every possible kind of person that might use our platform in the building process.
I also hope to increase the number of Black trans and non-binary people in the tech industry because our voices are essential.
You’ve been vocal online about wanting to use tech to uplift marginalized communities. Do you have a particular vision or idea for how to accomplish this?
I don’t have a concrete plan because I want to remain adaptable, but I know many ideas exist out there. For example, building apps isn’t my calling, but I know there are countless Black people in tech right now who have incredible ideas, are looking for funding, and the right person to believe in them.
The way I persuade people to join tech is by simplifying and demystifying it. Everyone should know that the tech world isn’t necessarily that technical, and it’s possible to learn what you don’t know.
There is room for creativity and people skills — skills that merely surviving in our society equips Black and Brown people with, so they are more than ready to contribute their voices to all facets of the tech industry. I intend to give them a point of entry, and some of the best entry points come in the form of free scholarships and resources like Grow With Google and Women Who Code. I’ve directed numerous friends to the organization and share free General Assembly classes whenever I can.
Essentially, my current action plan is to provide people entry points into the industry so they can see if they’re interested.
Can you elaborate on your love/hate relationship with tech startups?
All companies have their problems, but startups experience severe growing pains. Some startups are technically ten years old but have gone through so many iterations that they still aren’t fully-fledged businesses yet.
Startups usually have small teams, so everyone does a tremendous amount of work, but this can result in people being overworked and underpaid by as much as 30% market value.
If you work in a startup, the upside is the experience you gain. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to even stumble across the things I now enjoy without my time in young companies. The startups I worked in exposed me to usability tests and user surveys, which sparked my love for product management because everyone had their hands everywhere. I’ve advanced quickly thanks to the chaotic but educational nature of startups.
What has your experience as a nonbinary person in tech been like?
The pronoun struggle is frustrating; people seldom get my pronouns right or even acknowledge them. Colleagues misgender me all the time, especially when no one in the workplace shares my identity, which is most of the time for me. Nonbinary people’s experiences are certainly not a monolith; it varies depending on how you were assigned at birth and how you present. As someone assigned female at birth, people perceive me as and treat me like a woman. People misgender me even when my pronouns are next to my name in Slack!
There is also the issue of not wanting to bother correcting clients when I’m in a client-facing role. Part of me thinks, who cares if they misgender me? My interactions with them are limited before I send them on their way, but it does take a psychological and emotional toll.
I believe things are improving for nonbinary people in tech thanks to growing conversations about our experiences and pronouns. Still, it’s undeniably frustrating when people don’t register what I say when I try to correct them.
Besides more inclusion, do you think there is another way to get people to use other’s correct pronouns? Does it lie in diversity training or some other method?
I conduct anti-racism education and implicit bias training, so we talk a lot about cis-hetero-normativity and why people assume others’ genders. This cultural apparatus is really what’s at work; it’s not necessarily an individual actor’s fault if society socialized them to think a certain way. What matters is what they do after learning the truth.
So, I think training can help, but it fundamentally begins with basic human respect for how people identify and not how you identify them. Our minds can’t help but label people, but it’s crucial that we not impose our labels on others. How odd would it be if you introduced yourself as Jacob, but I said, “You seem more like a Dan to me, so I’m just going to call you Dan?”
It’s as simple as that. You wouldn’t call someone a name that doesn’t belong to them, so you shouldn’t refer to people with pronouns that don’t belong to them, especially if you’re aware. Training in the workplace can spread awareness, but true inclusion starts earlier.
Did misgendering happen to you a lot in the restaurant industry, or is it more pervasive in tech?
People didn’t refer to me as much in the restaurant industry. You’re pretty invisible in fine dining. It’s worse in tech for that reason, but I also transitioned into the field when I first started using they/them pronouns. I didn’t face as many issues or bring it up as often initially, but it got to the point where misgendering made me really uncomfortable, and I had to speak up. I would say, “Hey, I’m nonbinary, I use they/them pronouns, and here are some articles and resources about what nonbinary means.” Some people responded well to it, and others didn’t, which is why I say it comes down to basic respect.
What is your experience in the industry like also being Black?
Being a Black person in technology is undoubtedly challenging, compounded by the fact that I’m nonbinary. I’ve been the only Black person at every single tech company I’ve worked at, and usually the only queer person (and definitely the only trans or nonbinary person).
It’s very othering. My ideas are not often in-line with the people I work with, who are primarily white and cisgender men. Being in a professional environment may ease the struggle somewhat because their ignorance or neglectfulness isn’t necessarily as intentional, but it absolutely takes a toll when there isn’t someone around who can fully relate to you.
How do you attempt to make yourself heard when in situations where your ideas are swept under the rug?
I’m a very vocal person. I’ve learned that when you’re the only “one,” it’s not guaranteed someone is going to stand up behind you, so I got accustomed to being the only person who speaks out.
I’ve learned to plead my case and come prepared with research to support my claims. For example, suppose I propose an idea, and my coworkers aren’t inclined to listen. In that case, I make sure to present emails, support tickets, complaints, testimonials, and other material from users pertaining to the issue I want to resolve. You have to stand up for yourself, no matter what, because you can’t depend on others to support you.
Would you say women are more supportive of you compared to men?
It’s varied. The women are really badass, vocal, and incredibly supportive at my current company, but I’ve worked with and for women who believe that being strong means behaving like men. I would say women are generally more supportive, but it depends on the environment because if I were in a room full of white women and one Black man, I would expect more support from the Black man.
Nonbinary and people of color face unique challenges breaking into and advancing in the technology industry. With scholarships like Grow With Google and other free resources, people with marginalized identities can transition from any field and excel in their careers.
Nandi is currently a Product Migration Lead at GoContractor, a worker safety management and training platform.
WWCode and its partners have given $2,145,100.00 in scholarships since 2015. Our goal is to provide people with continued learning opportunities to further their careers and one day ensure marginalized groups are equally represented in the technology industry.